A View from the Sacristy: Lenten Cross

February 17, 2016 § 3 Comments

Cross 1I had mentioned on Ash Wednesday that the parish has three processional crosses: our Icon Cross which we use most of the year; the silver Easter Cross (which seems to weigh a ton); and the brass Lenten Cross.

The Lenten Cross has been with us for over 100 years and it’s really very beautiful. It’s just a shame we never really get to see it because it’s veiled during the time we use it in the liturgy.  When Graham French created our Lenten Array and Passiontide vestments he also created veils to use with this cross. The veils fit the cross like a glove. In this post, I have “lifted the veil” for us so that we can see the cross.

It is a humble cross. If you have ever been in the sacristy during the year, this processional cross lives very quietly by a pillar near the shelf where we keep the altar book, clergy prayer books, and lectionary readings book, going almost unnoticed. The brass cross has the Lamb of God, now broken, in the center, and the symbols of the each of the evangelists on the ends of each cross beam.

Cross 2

One of the alternate Anthems from the Good Friday liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) says,

We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.

Even on the day when we are memorializing Christ’s passion on the Cross, the BPC calls us to find joy in the cross. I hope are here at the beginning of our Lenten observances, this glimpse of the beauty of what’s hidden underneath this plain veil will help to bring you a spirit of anticipation to the glories of Easter which will lie beyond the horror of Good Friday and the crucifixion.

– Sean Scheller

A View from the Sacristy: Lent Comes to St. Luke’s!

February 10, 2016 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Lent Comes to St. Luke’s!

veilsLent comes to St Luke’s! In my mind, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are one continuous day, even though each has its own rhythm and focus.  On Shrove Tuesday, it’s pancakes and King Cake’s (this year I even stood in line at Randazzo’s in New Orleans and got my own!). Ash Wednesday is all Psalm 51, kneeling and simplicity.

For the altar guild, the liturgical seasons arrive well before the actual day: Christmas arrives on the weekend before December 25th, Easter arrives on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and Lent begins on the last weekend of the Epiphany season.  In those times before for each season, many things happen: at Christmas the Crèche is set up; at Easter the New Fire grill is put back together and the cross used on Good Friday is taken down from the wall; for Lent, pieces of linen are ironed, frontals are put on altars, and cast iron replaces silver and brass.

One of my favorite Lenten traditions at St Luke’s is the covering of the sacred images. Many churches only cover their images during Holy Week, but our tradition is to cover the images for the whole Lenten season. Our sacrisity has a drawer called “Lenten Coverings” and this is where we store all the linen we use to cover all the images.  We use coverings in the church that match the color of the walls so that the covering blends into the background. The first image that is covered always seems to be the icon of Our Lady of the Sign. Every Shrove Tuesday I climb up a ladder to place the carefully ironed linen cloth and come face to face with the Virgin Mary. What do you say when you meet the Virgin? I usually say first “Ave Maria!” and then as the cloth covers her face, “See you at Easter!”

The next image is the icon of Christ above the door where our processions begin. This is a difficult icon to see since it is so high but it is very beautiful. We have to use the tall ladder to reach the icon. I am usually trying not to look down or fall off the ladder so I do not have as much of a conversation with Christ but I do say, “See you at Easter!”

The next sacred image that is covered is the Lenten processional cross. We have three processional crosses at St Luke’s: our Icon Cross that we use most of the year, the silver Easter Cross (which seems to weigh a ton), and the brass Lenten Cross. The Easter cross has the Lamb of God at the crossing with the symbols of the Evangelist on the ends of the beams. It’s a very simple design. The Lenten Cross has been with us for over 100 years. It is is need of some TLC but it seems a shame not to use it and so why not use it when it can be covered?

The chapel images are always covered after the burning of the palm and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist before the parish pancake supper. Lent comes to the chapel later than the rest of the church. In the chapel, we have the icon panels of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, an icon of our patron St Luke, as well as the Rood Cross saved from the fire. We have beautifully crafted coverings that have a purple and ox blood panels down the center. I love how it gives the chapel a quiet dignity during this solemn season.

In Lent I miss seeing these sacred images. They are so much a part of my attending church. They are much like the person who always sits in the second pew on the right but one Sunday morning is not there and you wonder why. Did they go away for the weekend? Are they on the intercession list? I really should ask after them but who would know? Not seeing the images causes me to meditate and ponder them in almost the same way. If they were visible I would most likely give them a second thought but now that they are gone they make their presence know almost in a troubling way. Isn’t that one of the challenges of Lent?  To examine ourselves and take notice of those things that we take for granted and to be thankful for them before they go away?

– Sean Scheller

A View from the Sacristy: Tenebrae Hearse

April 1, 2015 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Tenebrae Hearse

In the St. Luke’s Sacristy, there are many liturgical items that when seen upon first glance, you’re not quite sure what they’re for. One example is our hearse, a triangular-shaped candelabra tucked up into the back of the loft. The word hearse comes from the French herse, from the Latin herpex, which means harrow. A harrow was a triangular-shaped, wooden-framed, Medieval farming implement with teeth, which was dragged over plowed lands to break up clods, remove weeds, and cover seeds after planting. The word harrow itself means to “cause distress to” or “break up and level.” A much-loved icon called “The Harrowing of Hell, is named so, according to Christian theology, because it was where Christ descended between his death and resurrection, and while there, broke open the gates of Hell, allowing the souls of the faithful to ascend to Heaven.

We get our modern association with the candelabra hearse through the Medieval usage of the funeral hearse, which was made out of a wooden or metal framework, and used both to support the funeral pall over the coffin (as well as hold numerous candles placed over it) or a corpse before burial. The framework included prickets (spikes to hold burning tapers), and owing to the resemblance of a farming harrow, was called a hearse. Later on, the word hearse was applied not only to the construction that covered the coffin, but to any receptacle in which the coffin was placed. The triangle itself is also representative of the Holy Trinity.

Tenebrae hearse, St. Luke’s Sacristy

Tenebrae hearse, St. Luke’s Sacristy

The candelabra hearse features prominently in the Office of Tenebrae. The word Tenebrae is Latin for “darkness” or “shadows”, but can also be translated into “night” or “death.” Tenebrae is marked by sung Antiphons and Readings from the Book of Lamentations, along with the gradual extinguishing of candles and interior lights, until a single candle (symbolic of Christ) remains. Towards the end, the remaining candle is removed and is hidden from view, falsely assuming victory by the forces of Satan. At the very end, a strepitus or loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection. The hidden candle is then restored to its place and participants depart in contemplative silence.

St. Luke’s formerly held the full Office of Tenebrae on Good Friday, which contained 75 to 85 minutes of non-stop singing from our professional choir. The prolonged burden of singing, along with low attendance prompted the church to channel its energy and resources elsewhere, and it was discontinued after three years.

Tenebrae is deeply moving, and it’s become integral to my full celebration of Holy Week. It calls me to that place where I begin my Lenten journey with Christ towards the cross—our cross. I love symbolism and oddly, the Tenebrae hearse speaks to that part of my soul. Just as a modern funeral hearse carries our loved ones towards their graves, the Tenebrae hearse carries Christ towards His tomb. But His ending is different. And because of His, so is ours.

Some think it’s sad that we no longer hold Tenebrae, but I love that it gives me permission from my obligations of cleaning, rehearsing, and preparing, so that I can find beauty and sacredness in my time of inner reflection. And if you need permission or a “nudge”, several candidates and sponsors of the 2015 Formation Class are attending Tenebrae this Wednesday, April 1, 5.30pm, at St. Thomas Church on 5th Avenue. We invite the entire St. Luke’s community to come experience it with us.

– T.J. Houlihan

A View from the Sacristy: Tenebrae Hearse

April 1, 2015 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Tenebrae Hearse

In the St. Luke’s Sacristy, there are many liturgical items that when seen upon first glance, you’re not quite sure what they’re for. One example is our hearse, a triangular-shaped candelabra tucked up into the back of the loft. The word hearse comes from the French herse, from the Latin herpex, which means harrow. A harrow was a triangular-shaped, wooden-framed, Medieval farming implement with teeth, which was dragged over plowed lands to break up clods, remove weeds, and cover seeds after planting. The word harrow itself means to “cause distress to” or “break up and level.” A much-loved icon called “The Harrowing of Hell, is named so, according to Christian theology, because it was where Christ descended between his death and resurrection, and while there, broke open the gates of Hell, allowing the souls of the faithful to ascend to Heaven.

We get our modern association with the candelabra hearse through the Medieval usage of the funeral hearse, which was made out of a wooden or metal framework, and used both to support the funeral pall over the coffin (as well as hold numerous candles placed over it) or a corpse before burial. The framework included prickets (spikes to hold burning tapers), and owing to the resemblance of a farming harrow, was called a hearse. Later on, the word hearse was applied not only to the construction that covered the coffin, but to any receptacle in which the coffin was placed. The triangle itself is also representative of the Holy Trinity.

Tenebrae hearse, St. Luke’s Sacristy

Tenebrae hearse, St. Luke’s Sacristy

The candelabra hearse features prominently in the Office of Tenebrae. The word Tenebrae is Latin for “darkness” or “shadows”, but can also be translated into “night” or “death.” Tenebrae is marked by sung Antiphons and Readings from the Book of Lamentations, along with the gradual extinguishing of candles and interior lights, until a single candle (symbolic of Christ) remains. Towards the end, the remaining candle is removed and is hidden from view, falsely assuming victory by the forces of Satan. At the very end, a strepitus or loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection. The hidden candle is then restored to its place and participants depart in contemplative silence.

St. Luke’s formerly held the full Office of Tenebrae on Good Friday, which contained 75 to 85 minutes of non-stop singing from our professional choir. The prolonged burden of singing, along with low attendance prompted the church to channel its energy and resources elsewhere, and it was discontinued after three years.

Tenebrae is deeply moving, and it’s become integral to my full celebration of Holy Week. It calls me to that place where I begin my Lenten journey with Christ towards the cross—our cross. I love symbolism and oddly, the Tenebrae hearse speaks to that part of my soul. Just as a modern funeral hearse carries our loved ones towards their graves, the Tenebrae hearse carries Christ towards His tomb. But His ending is different. And because of His, so is ours.

Some think it’s sad that we no longer hold Tenebrae, but I love that it gives me permission from my obligations of cleaning, rehearsing, and preparing, so that I can find beauty and sacredness in my time of inner reflection. And if you need permission or a “nudge”, several candidates and sponsors of the 2015 Formation Class are attending Tenebrae this Wednesday, April 1, 5.30pm, at St. Thomas Church on 5th Avenue. We invite the entire St. Luke’s community to come experience it with us.

– T.J. Houlihan

The View from the Sacristy: Symbols

March 25, 2015 § 1 Comment

screw top

[Editor’s note: This was so good last year, that we are bringing it back this year.]

It’s good to sit and think about altar guild work when I am, every other time, on the move and offering it.  The first real thought I have is it’s an opportunity to handle symbols.  I interact with them.  Some are exalted-looking vestments and frontals, some are prosaic-looking, a large jug of tokay with a screw-cap.  But all are more significant than they appear, and that is the magic.  They as a whole are as whole as the cross itself, the chrism and candle for baptism, the ashes for imposition, the funeral pall. The joy of the sanctus bells.  I don’t know if symbols can symbolize minor things, but these symbols don’t.

There’s a participation with them in altar guild work, of which my part is a caring for them.  Caring for the symbols of our faith!  They are mute reminders of the truth of our faith.  The symbols can be upsetting or beautiful, but this only reminds me of the wonderful thought from Martin Buber’s I and Thou, “ Jesus’s feeling for the possessed man is different from his feeling for the beloved disciple, but the love is one.”

Reminders of mortality or bells pealing a call to receive, the ciborium holding the Blessed Sacrament, the plastic tubs for the foot washing on Maundy Thursday, all these symbols, and caring for them, form an engaged Lenten meditation.

– Robert McVey

The View from the Sacristy: A Behind the Scenes Glimpse

March 18, 2015 Comments Off on The View from the Sacristy: A Behind the Scenes Glimpse

chaliceIt looks so ordered and neat when the doors open for each service on Sunday and the singing starts and the procession makes its way to the altar.  Yet what goes on before this point?  What’s happening in the sacristy, that room off to the left that you pass on your way to coffee hour?

Well, in a word, lots!

As a member of both the Acolytes’ and the Altar Guilds, I spend a lot of time in the sacristy on Sunday mornings.  This is service I feel honored to partake in.  Even in the hustle and occasional chaos of Sunday morning: ‘John Smith just called and can’t serve as chalice this morning’.  ‘Who has the matches?’ ‘Can someone help me find a cassock that FITS???!!’ ‘Where’s the MC??’.  Yup, there are times when it seems that maybe this week’s worship will be a disaster.

But you know what? It never is.  It always comes off, not necessarily perfectly, but Jesus is worshipped. Right before the altar guild members opens the door to the sanctuary and we get ready to process, the clergy and all the servers center themselves in prayer:  ‘As the deer longs for the water brook, so longs my soul for you, O God’. We prepare for the sacred work that we are called to do. At that point, the myriad things that have distracted us – a missing server, a wobbly candle in a torch, a smudge on a surplice – all fade away. We are there to serve. We are there to worship.

Every Sunday when I enter the sacristy, whether as Altar Guild member getting the chalices and vestments ready, or as a server carrying a torch or bearing a chalice at communion, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve God and the community of St Luke’s.  And if there’s a smudge on my surplice, that’s all right. Jesus won’t mind.

– Michael Cudney

A View from the Sacristy: Ready to Wear Ashes

March 4, 2015 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Ready to Wear Ashes

20150218_194219-1So, the ashes have been created, they are all ready to use! Well…not exactly. If you use just the plain burned palm it will only make a slight smudge on your forehead that wouldn’t even last until the end of the Ash Wednesday service.  You also would not have the picture-perfect ash cross we all hope for and desire.

There are a few theories on how to make the perfect ash but two things are common to each: you need to add some sort of fat or oil which accomplishes two things: 1. It makes the ashes darker, and 2. It causes the ash to adhere to skin.

Olive oil is a common bonding agent, although it doesn’t really make the ashes dark. I have never been able to get home-made ashes as dark as commercially-made ashes. Adding lampblack, however, which is a pigment made from burned fat or oil, gives the ashes a very rich, very dark pigment. Another benefit of the lampblack is that the fat or oil makes the ash adhere safely to skin. You can get some at a local craft store!

The one thing you never want to do is mix the ash with water. This can create a chemical called lye which is used in making soaps and oven cleaner. It can cause damage to the skin and can have hazardous reactions with certain metals and we do keep some of our ash in a metal container.

At St Luke’s we have lampblack in with the ash. Think back to Ash Wednesday and how long did your ash cross stay on you forehead. Did it last until the next morning? Did you have to scrub it off? See? Lampblack works!

We do have some ash from last year on reserve, so I think it might be time to give the oil treatment a try. It should be fun, mixing and stirring, trying to get the amount of oil just right, not too little, not too much. I’ll let you know how the experimentation turns out!

– Sean Scheller

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